Digital distributor TuneCore attracted strong criticism earlier this month when news of its price hike spread through the blogosphere. The company raised the flat price it charges to distribute an album for one year to $49.99 from $19.99. At the same time, it added 34 services and features, some previously a la carte line items, to the all-in price of $49.99. Prices for singles and ringtones remained at $9.99 per year.
Founder and CEO Jeff Price told Billboard.biz this week that he was "stunned" by the stories and believes the controversy was contrived. "There hasn't been a huge outcry" from his customers, he insisted, pointing out that users were informed about the price hike back in March through email and made the new price conspicuous on the web site. In addition, renewal notices are sent to customers multiple weeks ahead of time.
But there has certainly been an outcry in the blogosphere. Online reaction started after a May 6 post at Digital Music News titled "Pissed? TuneCore Quietly Raising Its Renewal Fees by 150%" The comments section become filled with harsh criticism. Other blogs picked up the story.
Then some competing services jumped at the opportunity. CD Baby created a special website at www.cdbabylovesyoumore.com and promised "no $49 annual fees ever" and offered a 50% savings on album submission fees to artists switching from a competing service. ONErpm and Zimbalam both offered discounts in comments section of blog posts.
By May 16, Price was defending the company's pricing structure in the comments section of a post at Hypebot. "I am by no means suggesting TuneCore is not a business, it is," he wrote Monday.
"I'm trying to come up with a fair price that allows me to be the best in the world," he told Billboard. "Did our prices go up? Yes, the annual fee went up. However, we removed a whole bunch of pricing." For example, TuneCore customers now get distribution to an unlimited number of stores (as opposed to a per-store fee) and an unlimited number of songs per album (instead of extra per-song fees). And Price points to a number of features and improvements TuneCore has built, from faster upload times (most songs now go live in "three to 45 cases") to expanded accounting systems ("a huge focus over the last three years").
But discussion of actual features has been missing as the conversation has focused on pricing structures, fees and discounts. And that bothers Price. "I've noticed that from time to time myself personally or my company, TuneCore, gets used a pawn by web sites competing for traffic and eyeballs," he said. "I have a problem with web sites that post incomplete and inaccurate information to be sensational or disingenuous because ultimately what's going to happen is it's the artist that's going to get screwed -- because they got the wrong piece of information; because some asshole tweeted something that was wrong."